Wednesday, May 18, 2011


May 18, 2011

At Walgreens the other day to get a couple of passport pictures made. Ten bucks plus tax. Over to the Happy Snaps department.
We’ll need your details, sir. Telephone?
Why do you need that?
Because I have to enter it in.
No, come on, young lady. I’m paying cash so that’s really all you need, right?
No, I can’t continue without the number.
Ridiculous. Of course you can. You’re offering to sell me something. Here’s the money. In my hand. What’s the holdup?
Just give me your phone number and we’ll take it from there.
I really don’t want to. I could get calls...
No, sir. We don’t do that.
I’ll get on some list. Hey! I see your computer’s asking for all kinds of information. My physical address. My e-mail address...
It won’t be used. They just want the information but they’re not going to do anything with it.
Are you serious? Who’s ‘they’?
The company.
Do you realize what you just told me? If they won’t use it then why do they want it?
Because if you come back later for the photographs we’ll know who to give them to.
You give them to me, of course, just as soon as they’re ready. And I’m not coming back. I’m staying right here. It says ‘While You Wait’. So I’m waiting.
I’ll need the phone number.
Just give me any number then. Any one. Not yours.
What? Are you kidding? What’s the point of asking me for details if I can provide you with false ones?
[Exit store clerk stage left. Enter the manager, Mr John West]
What’s the problem?
No problem. I was simply trying to buy a couple of passport pictures from you.
OK. Name?
No, come on. I’m paying cash. I don’t need to disclose things about myself as well.
I understand
But I don’t understand. Why do you insist on knowing who I am and all the rest? I’m giving you dollar bills. Here.
Well, we are going to need a name. You can be Peter Rabbit if you like.
Yes please.
Do you want to give a phone number or shall I enter just anything?
Please enter Peter Rabbit’s number if you know it.
Do you want to put in an address?
I think Peter lives next door to Mrs Tittlemouse. Does that help?
I’ll put Loganville. These other fields are optional so we’ll ignore them. See how easy it is?
Easy for you. You’ve done this before, haven’t you?
Yes, although we don’t get many rabbits in the store.
That’s odd, because we breed like crazy. We...
Stop! I think you’re about to reveal intimate details that I have no wish to hear.
Very good. But listen, I’m not trying to be difficult here. It’s just that there’s far too much of this information-gathering going on and I do my best to keep personal data to myself.
They won’t use it, I guarantee.
How do you know that?
Well, you see all these people in here? We have lots of information on them. Medical stuff. Their entire lives are in these files. And we don’t keep it. It’s destroyed.
Destroyed? Are you sure? How?
Absolutely. It’s taken away by a separate company and destroyed.
So an entirely different company gets hold of all this private information?
That’s right.
What’s to stop them selling it?
They don’t. They destroy it.
That’s what they tell you but can you be sure?. There’s big money to be made from large batches of personal data. Is nothing private any more?
[Silence. Were customers’ personal data ever to be compromised Walgreens would be in the clear and the sub-contractor to blame. Very cunning.
The Walgreens passport-picture-making machine, however, is indeed impressive. It sizes the face to the precise dimensions required not only by the United States but also by other nations. So far it’s limited to countries on this planet.]
Here are your prints.
Goodbye Peter! [Offers hand in friendship]
It’s ‘Goodbye Mr Rabbit’ to you, Mr West. But it’s been fun.
[A warm handshake and all in all a very entertaining half hour, courtesy of Walgreens, Monroe]
My wife at Pizza Hut last week:
Two medium pizzas to go please. Pepperoni. Extra cheese.
Yes ma’am. What’s the name?
Why do you need to know that?
We’ve got to have it on the order
But I’m standing here. I’m not going anywhere. You don’t need it.
What’s your phone number?
Why do you need my phone number now? I didn’t call this order in. I’m here ready to pay. Cash money.
Ma’am, we need the name and number.
You don’t.. When I buy groceries I don’t have to tell them this stuff. And there are people sitting down eating your pizzas. Did you get their names and numbers?
No? Why not? I want you to treat them the same way you’re treating me. I’ll watch.
It’s just our policy on take-out orders.
It’s my policy not to give out personal details to strangers. So if you insist on this I must take my custom to one of your competitors.
Your pizza will be ready in15 minutes, ma’am.


© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.